In the throes of neglect, Swat’s Buddhist heritage continues to crumble

Published: November 30, 2012

The ancient rock carvings have not been maintained, reflecting the indifference of concerned authorities. PHOTO: FAZAL KHALIQ/ EXPRESS

SWAT: 

Unprotected and unpreserved, hundreds of archaeological sites in Kokarai area of Swat are weathering away or have been left at the mercy of smugglers.

The area remained a “busy abode” during the Buddhist era, according to archaeologists and there are hundreds of rock carvings and even more artefacts and coins left scattered about. But since the archaeology department has attempted to preserve only 21 sites so far – out of which five have been defaced by locals and the Taliban – locals are concerned that if necessary efforts are not made, these remnants of the Buddhist era will be lost forever.

“People often come here and spend days digging up artefacts and coins using complex equipment,” said Rahman Ali, a young resident of Kalakoh Dherai. “They say they work for the government.”

Faizur Rehman

But these people are not from the government, they are smugglers who dig up the artefacts only to sell them to the highest bidder, said Afsar Ali, a local activist. “If not for the smugglers, the hundreds of archaeological sites are either weathering away or being defaced by locals,” he lamented.

He said a significant Buddhist rock-carving in Panr that was defaced by the Taliban is yet to be rehabilitated by the government. He blamed the government’s apathy towards the heritage of Swat for the lapse.

Swat’s Buddhist01-PHOTO-FAZAL KHALIQ-EXPRESS

The ancient rock carvings have not been maintained, reflecting the indifference of concerned authorities. PHOTO: FAZAL KHALIQ/ EXPRESS

Ali, however, demanded of the government to preserve a beautiful large Buddhist rock carving located in Bagh area of Kokarai. “Foreigners often visited the area before the militancy but the government has never attempted to preserve this historic piece of art,” he added.

Tariq Khan, owner of the land where the rock carving exists, said the site too has been prone to illegal excavation. “Sometime back, a small community from Mardan settled here and they would often dig up artefacts from the area,” Khan said. “I don’t know what they took but a number of broken Buddhist statues they excavated can still be seen in the protection walls of our field,” he added.

21

Swat Museum Curator Faizur Rehman, who is also the in-charge of protection of archaeological sites in Swat, told The Express Tribune that rock carvings in Kokarai are not protected sites. “Since the sites are located on privately-owned lands, the department can do nothing without the consent of the owners,” he said.

Moreover, due to shortage of caretakers, even the sites protected by the department cannot be guarded at night. “We only have enough guards to be deputed at the sites from morning till evening,” he lamented. Rehman said if the department is provided more funds, it can deploy watchmen at the sites around the clock and even protect additional sites.

“The importance of Swat is not only for of its breathtaking sceneries, but also because the valley has remained a cradle of various civilisations,” said Svastu Arts and Culture Association Chairman Usman Ulas Yar. The valley is full of ancient masterpieces of art and culture but sadly these works are being destroyed due to the neglect of the archaeology department, Yar said. “Until awareness about our cultural heritage is created, these historic sites and artifacts will remain at risk,” he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 30th, 2012. 

Reader Comments (8)

  • Fazal Maula Zahid
    Nov 30, 2012 - 10:29AM

    well done… alot of work needs to be done to preserve those sites, that still escapes from our eyes…like the one Express Tribune reported.. Swat can become globally favourit tourists detination in near future if this aspect of the valley is brought forward.

    Recommend

  • politically incorrect
    Nov 30, 2012 - 3:19PM

    These Buddhist relics have been planted by mischief makers. This was always Muslim land and Muslims do not engage in idolatory. No money need to be spend for restoration of the same. The same money can be spend to build new mosques and madrasas.

    Recommend

  • Liberal Sindhi
    Nov 30, 2012 - 4:42PM

    NO INDIFFERENCE Mr. Author!

    Govt has not taking care of even Muslim architecture such as Makli necropolis or even Mohen Jo Daro which is a world famous historical site.Recommend

  • J T
    Nov 30, 2012 - 7:42PM

    “politically incorrect” who says: “These Buddhist relics have been planted by mischief makers. This was always Muslim land and Muslims do not engage in idolatory. No money need to be spend for restoration of the same. The same money can be spend to build new mosques and madrasas.”

    Oh Man! Are people born this way, or is it all that religious indoctrination? I really hope its the latter.

    Recommend

  • Arijit Sharma
    Nov 30, 2012 - 8:32PM

    @J T: politically incorrect was being sarcastic i think.

    Recommend

  • politically incorrect
    Dec 1, 2012 - 12:18AM

    @Arijit Sharma

    You smelled the coffee right.

    @J P

    You made me happy by the way you reacted. Thank you bro.

    Recommend

  • J T
    Dec 1, 2012 - 2:20AM

    @politically incorrect:
    My apologies for missing the sarcasm there.

    The thing is that there is every likelihood that there are (other) people out there who actually do believe in such fantasies.

    Recommend

  • Dec 11, 2012 - 11:19PM

    I was wondering if you would like to be a guest poster on my website? In exchange you could put a link the post? Please let me know when you get a chance and I will send you my contact details – thanks.Recommend

More in KP & FATA